Like many Al‑Anon members, I have often joked that while I am asleep, elves visit my bookshelf and change the wording in my Al‑Anon literature. Pages I am sure I never read before suddenly appear in my careworn copy of One Day at a Time in Al‑Anon (B-6) on the exact day I need to hear a particular message. Words I hadn’t noticed the last time I read Opening Our Hearts, Transforming Our Losses (B-29) or As We Understood . . . (B-11) now appear bold-faced or italicized. This is in addition to the fact that my books often open to the page I need to read but don’t know it yet.
Thanks to Al‑Anon, I am better able to separate fantasy from reality today. I can look beyond this humorous fantasy that our literature has a life of its own to acknowledge that as I grow in willingness and humility—and as I continue to reread my literature—I notice things that went right over my head the first time. Once I can move past my denial, I am helped by ideas I once thought only applied to everyone else. I am slowly becoming more open to the guidance of a Power greater than myself that anonymously directs me to the perfect reading for where I am today. I have changed a great deal thanks to Al‑Anon, whether or not the literature has changed at all.
An additional reality, however, is that just as I have grown, so has our fellowship, and with it our Conference Approved Literature (CAL). When I joined Al‑Anon, there were very few other men at meetings, and the handful of book titles in print reflected the time they were written in, including the fact that most members were the wives of A.A. members. As more members from different backgrounds joined Al‑Anon, our literature began to mirror these changes, covering a broader base. But not all of the literature changes concerned gender or one’s relationship to the alcoholic. Some pertained to the use of more constructive, positive wording and further emphasis that we were not responsible for anyone else’s drinking or thinking. Since Al‑Anon’s beginning, its literature has been a living, breathing entity, constantly in motion. Our first book, The Al‑Anon Family Groups (B-5) changed several times in its first five years, including a title change to Living with an Alcoholic—with the Help of Al‑Anon. Our third book, The Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage (B-4), underwent a major expansion within four years of its first printing.
But how did these changes come about? Who is responsible for making sure the words of our literature accurately reflect our membership? Just as Al‑Anon literature is written by our members, suggestions for changes also come from the fellowship. Each quarter, the volunteer Literature Committee meets via conference call. Among other responsibilities, the Committee reviews and discusses suggestions for changes to existing literature that have been submitted by Al‑Anon members. But the Committee is not a decision-making body. It makes recommendations to the World Service Conference and the Board of Trustees and then carries out the decisions of the larger representative group conscience.
Major changes that involve rewriting material for changes in focus, audience, or intent from the original motion require a new motion from the World Service Conference. Revisions to update, clarify, or improve the flow without changing the intent, audience, or focus do not require a Conference motion. However, they still follow the involved CAL process, which includes scrupulous review by the Literature Committee, policy reviewers, and Staff. Housekeeping changes—updating addresses and phone numbers or correcting grammar and punctuation errors, for example—are handled by Staff.
Decisions by the Conference to give conceptual approval of major revisions are announced in the Conference Summary (P-46). When revisions are completed and available to the fellowship, they are announced in the Literature Committee report in the Conference Summary, The Forum, In the Loop, and in postings to Literature Coordinators and Literature Distribution Centers (LDCs). Minor revisions are also announced in the Conference Summary, Literature Coordinator and LDC updates, and The Forum. The Summary and all our newsletters are available on the Al‑Anon website at al‑anon.org.
When reading our literature together at a meeting, some members get confused by the various printings that may have different wording. As is often said in Al‑Anon, today we have choices. Some groups pass around a single copy and listen to each other rather than follow in their own book. Others use group copies for the duration of the meeting. There are also some who find the changes to be a fascinating reminder that recovery is not some stationary thing that, once arrived at, remains frozen and never changing. I am very grateful to have learned that Al‑Anon literature really is alive and does indeed grow and change, but only to the extent that we do, as individuals and as a fellowship.
By Tom C., Associate Director—Literature
The Forum, October 2019